As Jerry sat down in my office, I told him that I’d heard the rumor that he was talking to another firm, and asked him what we could do to convince him again that we would be the best firm for his project. Then my phone rang and I picked it up; after a few seconds, I told Jerry that the call was for him, from the Turner Company.
Wolman got on the line and Irwin Corey began to give him a double-talk spiel about how the Turner Company was a better choice to build his Chicago project. Wolman fell for it, hook, line, and sinker— at first. Then, after a lengthy diatribe about Turner’s superior services in Chicago, it finally dawned on Wolman that this was a practical joke. A good laugher, he seemed quite amused. I then had the “Professor” come in—he had been hidden away, a few offices down the hall—and we all had a good chuckle over it. I underlined for Jerry my more serious point: that we worked from an owner’s and from a builder’s perspective, and therefore could serve Jerry better than could a pure general contractor with little ownership experience.
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Wolman’s 100-story skyscraper was then going to be the tallest building in the world, and because the tower would be so high, a series of ten-to-twelve-foot-diameter caissons, the supports for the structure, had to be drilled into the ground to a depth of about 100 feet. The caissons were to be dug and filled with concrete even before the entire design for the building was complete, because no matter how the designs for the upper structure progressed, the caissons would have to be emplaced in expectation of the sizable loads that would need to be supported. Our experience enabled us to push the process along on a “fast track” schedule. SOM had insisted on the right to inspect and oversee all the work, including the caisson work. Usually we would do that by employing an independent consultant, but SOM had emphasized to Wolman that inspection was their province, a service that larger architectural firms provided to clients, for which they charged a site inspection fee.
As the caissons were being poured, SOM reported no problems with them, but one of our men on a routine trip around the site discovered that one caisson had sunk about a foot below the height it had been the night before. This was bad news—big, bad news. All work on the site had to be stopped. Some of the superstructure steel had already been erected, but further steel deliveries had to be held back while all the caissons across the entire site were inspected. The testing process took several weeks, since the only way to check whether any other caissons might have similar problems was to core-drill through each one’s already hardened concrete to the bottom. The process was expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating.
A void in the problem caisson had opened in the concrete, and had caused the concrete above the void to sink of its own weight. But no one could come up with a definitive explanation for how a “slug” of concrete, ten feet in diameter and one foot thick inside the caisson, could have slipped sideways and disappeared. The reason could have been the building’s location, close to the edge of Lake Michigan. It could also have been the quality of the concrete, or the way in which the concrete had been poured, or it could have been attributed to a couple of other causes. All of us were unable to figure it out, and while we tried to do so and tested every single other caisson, the cost of not continuing to build was mounting. All tests done on the caissons across the site came up negative—there was nothing wrong with the other caissons. Eventually, the void in the first one was filled with new concrete, and we were able to go ahead with the construction.
The various parties sued over their losses incurred due to the faulty caisson, but they couldn’t sue us because we had not taken on the obligation to inspect the work on the site. That had been by contract SOM’s bailiwick, and so they had to defend themselves legally against the claim that proper inspection would have caught the problem while the concrete was being installed, and prevented the losses due to having to remedy the caisson problem.